Starring Shu Qui, Chang Chen, Zhou Yun, Ethan Juan
Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Every once and a while a martial arts film comes along that tells a grand story on an epic scale, with great actors, fantastic visuals, and exceptional, poetic fight scenes. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, The House of Flying Daggers are some of these kinds of films.
This ain’t one of them.
The Assassin tells the story of Yie Ninniang (Shu Qui), an assassin trained by a nun, given over to her by their parents for reasons I have no idea. Yieninniang still suffers from human sentiment, and refuses to kill. She finally gets her final mission: to kill her cousin (Chang Chen) whom she was once betrothed to. Rather than try to kill him, she does battle with a masked woman, while a crazy monk tries to kill her cousin, and she saves her father from assassins, all of whom I have no damn idea who they were.
This film is really as bad as they come. Yes, Hou won best Director at Cannes, and critics heap a bunch of praise on the film, but I wonder if they’ve ever seen a martial arts film? Films like the ones I mentioned at the start of this review? Let’s start first by saying there are far too many shots of characters either staring at…something, or walking for long periods of time across the screen, in the slowest manner possible. This tested the limits of my patience, and it found me wanting. I think this film could have been easily cut to an hour long rather than the 106 running time. And the end… can someone tell me what the hell gets resolved? With any plot line?
The story does absolutely no favors to the actors, as character seem to come from no where with no explanation who they are or more importantly why we should care about them. For that matter, there is no real explanation as to why I should care for any of them. Shu Qui is passable, and as beautiful as ever, but her character has zero personality, and disappears and reappears in the film like she’s the goddamn Batman. Chang Chen thought he was in another Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon kind of film, and that tells me the poor guy had no idea what film he was making.
The cinematography is gorgeous, but lingers too long on things that don’t matter and aren’t important to the story, such as it is. As a series of stills, which this movie nearly is, it’s breathtakingly beautiful. But this is a film, and the images on screen need to have a life and breathe, and they don’t.
The fight scenes range from dreadful to okay to “what just happened”? One prime example is the very first fight, where the entire fight between Shu Qui and a group of swordsmen happen…across a pond. In the forest. And you stay exactly that far away from the action. Binoculars are needed to see what’s going on. If this is considered high art, I’ll pass, thank you much.
KIAI-KICK’S GRADE: 2
This is a dreadful film from start to finish. Despite the exceptional camerawork, it needed about another few weeks in the editing room to put a coherent film together. Shu Qui and Chang Chen have done so much better work than this.